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Arizona bill targets aggressive panhandlers

PHOENIX — State Rep. John Kavanagh wants to restrict aggressive panhandling in Arizona.

“This is not the usual, ‘Mister, can you spare a dime?’ passive begging,” he said.

So-called “passive” or “peaceful” begging is protected by the First Amendment. It’s a lesson Arizona learned last year after a federal court ruled a state law on public begging violates free speech. This year, Kavanagh has introduced a bill to ban aggressive panhandling.

“That’s where the panhandler follows you around and keeps asking after you say no, touches you, steps in front of you, blocks your way,” he said.

His bill would also make it illegal for a panhandler to approach someone within 10 feet of a bus stop or 15 feet of a bank or ATM. Kavanagh, a Republican who represents Fountain Hills in District 23, said this is not a right-wing or left-wing bill.

“Blue states, red states, they all have this ban against this very uncivil and intimidating behavior. It’s just not appropriate.”

If House Bill 2024 becomes law, it would make aggressive panhandling a petty offense which typically involves a citation being issued. Kavanagh said repeat offenders could potentially face jail time.